Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Unblogged Files: March

Oh my goodness, March was such a busy month for me!  Loads of events, eating out, cooking and a little travel.

I started the month with a weekend trip to the Goulburn Valley, visiting some of the towns up north along the Hume Highway.  (Disclosure: it was a complimentary media trip to promote the region, which I'll be blogging shortly). When we drove through Shepparton, I just had to stop and take this photo:

Krueger's German meat shop and "Erotic Nights" adult store.  Shepparton truly has it all!  Hehehe.

We celebrated my parents' thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, with dinner at Ezard.  The food was excellent, as usual, but the service was a little mechanical - apart from one fabulous waitress who was lovely, we really felt like the waitstaff were just phoning it in.
Cocktails and the famous caramelized pork hock - so good!

Ezard's Dessert Platter

Other eats of note with my parents this month were a lunch at Kenzan, whose sushi and sashimi platter I always love...
Kenzan's Sushi and Sashimi Assortment - $90
... and Yum Cha at Spice Temple.  The yum cha was a bit underwhelming, and extremely overpriced.  Of course, it's only expected that their yum cha would be more expensive than regular yum cha, what with premium ingredients, the lovely setting, and highly-trained and knowledgeable waitstaff who are willing and able to guide you through the menu.  However, despite all that, I still felt the price tag wasn't justified.  We paid $150 for lunch for four people, on food alone, and still left hungry.

Tea was charged at a minimum of $5 per person, and their small, individual "sandwiches" (crispy Guangxi pork slider, cumin lamb or white-cut chicken steamed bun) were priced at $9 each - an easy way of adding at least $56 to a meal without getting too much value in return.  I know the waitstaff were only trying to help when they said, "these sandwiches are served individually; would you like to order four?", but I couldn't help but feel like I was being upsold.    (Needless to say, we didn't order any tea or sandwiches).

Selection of Dishes at Spice Temple Yum Cha
In terms of the dishes themselves: most were pretty tasty.  The $12 shredded lamb shoulder buns (second from the right in the bottom row of the above photo) were particularly delicious, and we ordered two serves of them.  Most of the dumplings, in fact, were very good, but just very, very small.  All the dumplings in the bottom row were about the size of my thumb, and cost between $7 and $9.  (You'd need to order at least two plates of each to get anywhere close to a satisfying meal).  The only dish we really, really didn't like was the chicken with glutinous rice in lotus leaf ($10), which hardly had any pieces of chicken, lap cheong or mushrooms, and whose rice wasn't actually sticky.  My mum described it as: "pien lang" ("they're bluffing us").

Their egg tarts were priced at $8 each.  Each!  I must admit the egg tart I ordered was fabulous, with light and flaky pastry and a just-set warm egg custard, but still, it was certainly not $8 worth of fabulousness.  Perhaps if they'd done two mini-egg tarts, the price would have been justified, because at least you could have shared it!
$8 Egg Tart at Spice Temple

There were some good points to the yum cha, and my parents and I are glad we tried it, but I am absolutely sticking to their equally delicious and much better value dinners from now on.  On both my previous visits to Spice Temple, we spent a similar amount (including cocktails), and left much more satisfied!
Spice Temple on Urbanspoon


And speaking of parents, this month we also got a care package from Sandra's parents in Germany! Woot-woot!
Yes, you see that right: that's FOUR packets of Bauern Frühstück!  (Farmer's breakfast of fried sliced potatoes with egg and bacon, which you may remember from my previous post.)

I visited a lot of great cafes this month:

Pure Italian in North Balwyn for fab antipasti, rich coffee and interesting pasta dishes that were delicious, but a little heavy on the olive oil.
Pure Italian, North Balwyn
Three Bags Full in Richmond, which was much needed after a stressful trip to Ikea!  My dad loves their schnitzel sandwich in particular, because the bread isn't too hard.

Three Bags Full, Richmond
When I found myself in the CBD early one morning, I stopped in for breakfast at Kinfolk, on Bourke street.  (Thanks to @imakecake for the heads up!)  Being staffed almost entirely by volunteers, I wasn't sure what to expect, but the service was friendly, enthusiastic and efficient.  I suppose if you're working for free, you must really want to be there!  My avocado on rye toast with ricotta was very good - and only $8! - as was the coffee.

Kinfolk, Bourke Street

I also played tour guide one day to the lovely Kate and Rob, who were visiting from Brunei.  They had one day in Melbourne before embarking on their campervan adventure, and I just had to take them to St Ali for a taste of Melbourne inner-city converted-warehouse caffeinated goodness!  They loved the burgers, and I think they quite liked the warehousey vibe, and the fact that the cafe is "hidden" down a laneway with little signage!

St Ali, South Melbourne

It seems like winter has started to creep in, but I made the most of one of the last hot days of the year with a little drive to Chelsea beach.  It was so peaceful and gorgeous, and the water was so clear!
Chelsea Beach

Another highlight of the day was stopping off in Springvale for pho and iced coffee at Pho Hoang.  (Thanks to @honeycrackle for the recommendation!)
Pho at Pho Hoang, Springvale

Later that night, we went out for drinks and dumplings with Adrian and Chris!  This started with a yummy pitcher of an apple cocktail and some sausage rolls on the balcony at Madame Brussels.  I'd only ever been to Madame Brussels on Saturday nights before, when it's super-crowded, and was pleasantly surprised at how pleasant the atmosphere was on a sunny weeknight.

Madame Brussels
This was followed by dumplings at China Red, in the Village Arcade in Chinatown.  I loved using the touchscreen to order food, and the dumplings were really tasty!
Dumplings at China Red
The delicious dumplings were followed by what was perhaps the most bizarre eating experience of my life: dessert at Tom Turtle Cafe.  They're a new dessert cafe whose gimmick is that they serve their ice-cream in cubes.  It sounded interesting, and we thought it could be fun, so we decided to give it a go.  However, despite listing all sixty different flavours on the menu, we were told that because it was their opening week, you couldn't pick the flavours you wanted, but could only order expensive dessert plates with fixed flavour combinations - which only represented a fraction of their total flavours.  Er.... why?  Surely a new ice-cream cafe would want their customers to be able to actually try a decent range of their product!

See this below image they had displayed on the wall?  I wanted to eat that!  Boo.
Tom Turtle ice-cream cubes: only for picture, not for customers
After checking with her manager, the nice waitress finally let us buy one cube of guava ice-cream for $3 - which was tiny!  Yup, that spoon you see in the below picture was a TEASPOON.
$3 cube of guava ice-cream

In my mind, the only justification for insisting on set flavour combinations would be if they worked beautifully together and were absolutely amazing.  They weren't.  This below set was $16.50, and included cookies & cream, peanut brittle, apple pie and a couple of others.  All the cubes were icy and thin-tasting, and the apple pie cube had a strong artificial flavour.

$16.50 dessert plate
I must also say that I felt quite uncomfortable sitting in a practically empty cafe, being served by very young, very pretty, Asian girls in tight short-shorts, while a surly older white manager sat silently at his computer behind the counter.  I do want to stress that my negative impression of Tom Turtle is not a reflection on the waitresses themselves, who were all helpful and polite, but rather a reflection of the crap business model and poor quality product.

And if you look at their user reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp, it looks like a couple of their positive user reviews were written by management or friends, with quotes like: "ice cream is of exceptional quality and the flavour really bursts through"; "I like Asian women"; and "The waitresses are all hot!".  Yurgh.
Tom Turtle on Urbanspoon 

Another night, we did dumplings and drinks for my friend Alaina's birthday.  I was a little wary about trying HuTong again, especially considering that my last visit was a total shambles, but this time the service was good and everything was delicious!  Yay!  The eggplant with scallops, in particular, was excellent!
Dinner at Hu Tong

Less excellent though, was the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour we took straight afterwards!  It was a walking tour of apparently haunted sites throughout the CBD, which sounded like it could be interesting!  Unfortunately though, it was really bad - they let almost one hundred people on the tour and we couldn't hear the tour guide at all.  What a waste of $20!  Oh well, at least we worked off those dumplings with all the walking!

The evening was saved with awesome drinks at The Kodiak Club on Brunswick street.  It's an American-style neighbourhood bar, with great cocktails and fab bar snacks.  They serve real tortilla chips, all hot and salty, and super-addictive hot Buffalo wings!
Tortilla Chips and Buffalo Wings at The Kodiac Club

Another venue we visited on Brunswick street this month was Yong Green Food.  It was my suggestion to catch up here, and I was glad my meat-loving friends were enthusiastic about the vegetarian offerings.  (I arrived slightly late and they'd already Urbanspooned the restaurant to get the low down on what the best dishes were!)
We shared a few dishes between the five of us.  Clockwise from top right: vegetarian pho; rawsagne (raw zucchini layered with cashew cream and other vegetables); kim chi tempeh sushi rolls, raw cashew bread open sandwich, and the macro dragon bowl with lemon tahini and miso soup.  My favourite was the dragon bowl, with its brown rice, mushrooms, tempeh, and gorgeous tahini sauce.

Desserts at Yong Green Food. Clockwise from left: Pecan pie; lemon raw cheesecake; green tea ganache
The raw desserts were more about novelty factor for me than the taste.  All were heavily based on coconut, and whilst I loved the texture in the green tea ganache, the coconut made the pecan pie and lemon cheesecake a little too mealy and virtuous-tasting for what were clearly high-calorie desserts.  The pecan pie also tasted more of banana than pecans!

In complete contrast to those vegetarian, raw and macrobiotic delights was the dinner we cooked for Kate and Rob when they returned to Melbourne after their campervan trip.  I wanted to make them something they couldn't get in Brunei, and did a trad English roast dinner: rack of pork with crackling followed by classic sticky date pudding.

Rack of Pork

Crackling...
A month without crackling is a month wasted...

So that was my March!  April will hopefully be a little quieter - I need a rest after all that eating and cooking!

5 comments:

Norm said...

We LOVED St Ali - all of Melbourne actually! What a great city. Thanks SO much for showing us around. And the dinner... well, you know we loved that too!

Lots of fab memories from our trip.

Kx

Sarah said...

Hi Kate,

So glad you had a good time in Melbourne and that you enjoyed St Ali! :) I think we can all agree Melbourne is better than Sydney ;)

xox Sarah

Agnes said...

Wah! I just about fainted at the prices of yum cha at Spice Temple. I mean - sure it's going to be more expensive than normal yum cha - BUT $8 for ONE egg tart. Wow...

And I see what you mean about Tom Turtle. Weird.

Sarah said...

Agnes - Yes, Spice Temple Yum Cha was ridiculously expensive! My dad was paying and I felt *so* bad and kept trying to limit what we ordered!

Omg, Tom Turtle. SO WEIRD!

April said...

It's quite scary to see (probably not even) everything you've eaten summed up in one post! Lots of nice looking meals though.

I think I'll just stick with the neighbourhood restaurants for yum cha since Spice Temple pricing is so steep!